ORCA skeleton assembled

This article appeared in the Jnuary 17 , 2002  number 8 issue of the Collge newspaper

It’s a grand jigsaw puzzle – hundreds of bones, huge and tiny, all to be reassembled into the skeleton of a whale. Graduates returning to the June reunion will know the first whale project, and everyone at Pearson since then will know the vast frame of a whale erected behind the swimming pool. The present Orca project is well underway, and, happily for those currently working on it, well past the smelly stage.

Biology teacher Catrin Brown, a team of students, and Han Bauer, the first Biology teacher at Pearson, took the project a stage further this week, examining the skeleton of a porpoise – rather easier to fit into lab space! – in order to understand better the structure of the killer whale. Catrin gives us following explanation.

Catrin’s Explanation

In September 1999, a 27-year-old female killer whale known as L-51 was found dead in the waters off Race Rocks. Her death was presumably the result of a prolapsed uterus from a difficult childbirth a few months before, and fate of her young calf was unknown.

A team of Pearson divers towed the whale ashore, where it was disembowelled and transported back to the college in gorey chunks. Sections of the carcass were then suspended from the college docks, where ocean life feasted on the decaying meat over a period of months. Eventually the clean bones emerged and after a summer of drying and bleaching in the sun, the smell receded and the promise of a skeleton took shape.

At this stage outside help was sought, and found in the person of Hans Bauer, Biology teacher at the founding of the college, who is now retired and living in Sydney, near Victoria. With his good humoured guidance, students tackled the task of removing some of the more tenacious marrow by boiling the large bones in large vats over a fire. Many students have been involved in various stages of this project including Katy Green (year 25), Joao Marquez (year 26), Francoise Guigne (year 27) and Jaffar Saldeh (year 27).

We are now close to the stage of reassembling the bones into a permanent mount for display on campus. As the population of killer whales inhabiting the Juan de Fuca Strait has recently been declared an endangered species, L-51 is likely to be a focal point of interest.

January 17, 2002. number 8.